Preserve an Endangered Species with Heritage Chickens

Prevent the loss of heritage chicken breeds by starting your own unique flock on your homestead.

| December 1996/January 1997

Raise your own heritage chickens and become a poultry preservationist. 

Just imagine . . . breakfast eggs so fresh they're still warm from the nest; drumsticks with the real old-time chicken flavor, not hidden under fat-fried dough and some "secret blend" of herbs and . . . chemicals; your own chicken flock serving as a no-cost shredder/composter to convert garden and kitchen scraps to super-rich natural fertilizer; and (in a light-weight mobile henhouse) a 10- or 12-chickenpower tiller to cultivate and enrich your garden soil at the same time. Plus the better-than-TV panorama of plump hens and fuzz-ball chicks chirping and scratching contentedly in the dooryard. And to cap it all, the cheerily raucous "Aaawk-ah-Aw-aawk" of a rooster to welcome the dawn of each new day.

A home chicken flock is the first (and easiest) step toward self-sufficiency in animal food raising, and has long been the culmination of the country-living dream for city folks.

But in your wildest dreams, could you have imagined that keeping heritage chickens can help preserve endangered species? True. You see, like the human species itself, chickens came "out of Africa" eons ago. Along with wild hogs, cattle, horses, and dogs, the varicolored wild African jungle fowl was domesticated early in our distant ancestors' spread around the globe. Since mankind began to farm, perhaps 10,000 years ago, people in every valley and hamlet on the Eurasian continents and on the islands of every ocean have been selecting and re-selecting the best egg and meat producers from their chicken flocks.

When Europeans came to the Americas they brought along their favorite hens and roosters: the White Faced Spanish Black, Campines from Belgium, German/Dutch Lakenvelder, strains from around the Mediterranean and from farthest Sumatra and other Far Eastern islands, the Chinese Cochins, and dozens of English varieties named after their coloring and place of origin: the Hampshire Red, Black Cornish, Speckled Sussex, White and Black Leghorns, and more. Colonists bred new varieties that produced both plentiful eggs and quality meat throughout the variable New World climate: Plymouth Rocks, New Hampshire and Rhode Island Reds, the famous Canadian Chanticleer, and many other less-familiar strains. By the late 1800s, every farm community had, if not its own named variety, its own strain of "Rock" or "Leggern," plus pint-sized "Bantam" versions of every variety. And fancy-feathered or highly colored breeds like Polish Cresteds, Brahmas from China, Australorps from Australia, and the Phoenix from Japan with tail feathers that grew a yard long were shown at the County Fair.

But with 20th-century industrialization, the growth of cities, and the loss of small firms, poultry raising became just another agribusiness dominated by a handful of giant grain-broker corporations. Today, supermarket eggs sell for 99 cents a dozen and chicken parts for less than a half-dollar a pound—cheaper than bread and less than you or I can hope to produce them from $1 hatchery chicks and 20 cents per lb. feed.

1/7/2010 8:24:19 PM

Good article - chickens are easy and fun. One caution I would add, however, is cats and chickens. Our 'barn kitties' did get some of our chicks - no mama around to protect them.

9/27/2007 7:34:22 AM

Domestic chickens are descendeed mostly from the Red Jungle Fowl, which happens to be an Asian species, and not African.

4/8/2007 8:44:52 AM


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